I have a confession to make: Sometimes God scares me. As a child, I would often think of the Second Coming. I would imagine seeing the little cloud appearing in the sky, the sign that the God of the universe was finally returning to Earth in power and great glory to judge all people, both small and great. More often than not, the thought scared me. How could I be sure I’d be okay?
Reading stories in the Bible about God’s judgment, I would feel the same fear. Here was a Being, whose presence is “a consuming fire” and would mean instant death (Hebrews 12:29). He was that strong, that powerful, that holy — I wouldn’t stand a chance.
I’m guessing many of you have read the same passages, felt the same feelings and asked the same questions: How should we respond to stories where God sends fire from heaven to burn up a wicked city or sentences a man to death by stoning for disobeying one command? And how could we ever reconcile these expressions of God’s justice and power with His love, which is also emphasized throughout the Bible?
I think part of the problem lies in our understanding of these two qualities. Often, we see God as simply a stronger, more powerful version of ourselves. The word “power” brings to mind people in our lives who have abused the power they held. It brings to mind pictures of leaders gone sour: parents, presidents and dictators. And with these pictures often come disturbing themes; indifference, pride and control find their way into many people’s conceptions of power.
It is understandable, then, that God’s power sparks fear. Power is very dangerous to the wicked. It gives freedom of movement and breadth of influence, removes obstacles and wins arguments. In the hands of a sinner, power is to be feared.
But God is no sinner. As 1 John 4:8 says, “God is love.”
We hear this statement so frequently that many of us have lost sight of its meaning. Even when we do recognize God’s love, we struggle to connect it to our working understanding of God’s character. We don’t relate to Him as if He is really loving. We forget that love can be powerful and still be love.
But, as the Bible says in 1 John 4:18, “Perfect love casts out fear.” When paired with love, power need not breed fear. Instead, power calls for worship, something Solomon referred to as the “fear of the Lord.” This stance before God recognizes both aspects of God’s character equally. Unlike fear, which dwells upon His power alone, or presumption, which appeals to His love as license for sin, the person who fears the Lord bows before God in awe, amazed that such a powerful Being could be at the same time such a loving One.
The devil would have us view God in any number of ways, so long as we do not understand this one point: that with God, power and love are not incompatible as they often seem on earth. Instead, they are synonymous. God’s love is all-powerful and His power all-loving. Nothing could divorce the two from each other, and nothing ever will.
I pray that as you think about these things, your understanding of God would continue to grow, and that one day you will be able to think of the power of God and tremble — not for fear, but for joy — that Someone like Him exists, Someone with limitless strength, strength that rushes towards you in love, ever ready to bless, delight and deliver.